A homemade pie is a welcome addition to any day. Besides maybe you and I, no one cares about a less-than-perfect pie crust. Your homemade pie will be cheered! Applauded! Requested again, even!
While I’ve read plenty of pie cookbooks and made a lot of pies, so many have been the graham cracker crust variety. I’m looking to significantly up my pastry pie game this year and make pies a regular dessert feature. Join me, won’t you?
If you’ve wondered how to make pie crust by hand, you’re in the right place. Learn how to make flaky pie crust, all about pie fillings, and the rest of the essential pie-making details from experienced pie bakers we know and love below. Use the Table of Contents below to skip around. Let’s do this.
- What is Pie?
- What Do You Need to Make Pie Crust?
- What Ingredients are in a Pie Crust?
- How to Make Pie Crust
- How Do You Make Pie Crust Flaky?
- How Do You Make a Pretty Pie Crust?
- How to Bake Pie Crust
- Can You Make a Pie without an Oven?
- Why Did My Pie Fail?
- Why is My Apple Pie Gapping?
- How Long Does a Pie Last?
- Make Pie for Every Occasion
- Related Resources
What is Pie?
So, what makes a pie a pie? There are multiple baked goods that count as a type of pie. I think a crust has something to do with it. Let’s take a look.
A galette is like a pie, but it’s free-formed. It’s fast to make. Unlike the foofing you need with a pie and a pie pan to put it in, a galette is fashioned on a rimmed baking sheet.
My favorite galette recipe does require 30 minutes of freezer time before rolling out the crust. That’s about the most intensive it gets. The pastry’s edges are folded to contain the fruit filling, and the whole thing is baked until bubbly.
I have to admit that pie balls are kind of a weird thing to me. I get cake balls or cake pops. Those are delicious and don’t seem labor-intensive. But a pie ball?
People are taking pie fillings, shoving them into little blobs of pie dough, and baking them. It seems like a lot of work when let’s face it, a whole pie is a glorious thing to behold. But I don’t know. Maybe these are so delicious that once you have one, you can’t help but make pie balls all the time. Do you bake pie balls? If so, I’d love to hear more about these unique pie recipes.
Fried Hand Pies or Amish Half-Moon Pies
A fried hand pie with lemon filling is pretty much my favorite thing ever to appear at a farmer’s market or Amish shop (I’m in rural Pennsylvania, remember, so Amish shops are everyday things around me). Like, I don’t care if it’s 8 AM. I will drop everything, get my (darling, precious) lemon-filled hand pie, and eat it right then. There may have been a time I bought two extras to share with the kids later as a surprise. They may not have ever received said surprise…
I should back up a step. A hand pie is a handheld pie in typical fruit and cream flavors. They are substantial enough to be eaten right out of hand. The best handheld pies are flaky with a vanilla-glazed exterior, much like those Hostess pies of old (remember those?). These, however, are irresistible.
You know you’re in a good place when you see a bakery case with flaky turnovers. A turnover is an “individual pie formed by folding a piece of pastry in half over a filling. The open edges are pressed or crimped together to enclose the filling during cooking and eating.
Turnovers may be baked or fried,” says the Encyclopedia Britannica. The best turnovers may include a simple glaze drizzled over the top. It’s a perfect way to start any day.
You’d think a tart and a pie were almost stand-ins for each other. Nope. Tarts use a special pan, a tart pan, often featuring a removable bottom and crimped edges. Those edges are sharp with a purpose. They cut the dough to fit.
Tart crusts often feature less fat, use a shortcut pie pastry recipe, and are single-crust pies (they aren’t topped with lattice or a second crust). If uniformity is a thing with you, that’s the name of the game with tarts. Without crust edges and a top crust layer, tart presentation is almost always spot on.
What Do You Need to Make Pie Crust?
When it comes to making your homemade pie crust, you don’t need fancy tools. While you could get away with using a couple of knives instead of a pastry blender or pastry cutter, trust me, you don’t want that hassle. A name-brand pastry blender isn’t expensive. You can use it for more than pie, like biscuits, mashing bananas for banana bread, or smooshing up an avocado.
Necessary Tools Needed to Make Pie
- Rolling pin
- Pastry blender or pastry cutter
- 9″ or 10″ pie plate
- Pie weights
Nice to Have Tools to Make Pie
- Silpat baking sheet with pie-sized markings
- Wire cooling rack
- Pastry brush
- Pastry wheel
What Ingredients are in a Pie Crust?
Pie crust recipes vary. Even so, a pie crust contains fat, flour, a little liquid, and a smidgen of salt. The proportions and the kind of fat, flour, and liquid will vary. Common pie dough ingredients are listed below. These include:
Over a decade ago, I attended a chicken dinner at a teeny tiny church in the country. Dessert included a variety of pies. I happened to sit across from the guy who made the pies — and he shared that he had won several awards for his pie recipes and believed the reason was the lard he used in his pie pastry.
Although out of fashion in many parts of the country, lard has long been accepted as the premier fat for producing blue ribbon pastry crusts and biscuits. It is richer than most other fats, with a crystalline structure that cuts readily into flour and produces an extremely flaky crust. Lard is pork fat rendered from fatback, clear plate, and the highly prized leaf kidney fat. It is this “leaf lard” that is regarded as the best quality.
When choosing lard, read the package carefully. Unprocessed lard has a strong flavor and soft texture. Processed lard is firmer and has a more delicate flavor and a longer shelf life. To substitute lard for butter, use 20 to 25 percent less than the amount of butter indicated in the recipe.
As an example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup butter, you can substitute slightly more than 3/4 cup lard. Lard can be stored on the shelf on the refrigerator for 15 days to 2 months, depending on the processing method used; the package instructions specify the correct storage temperature. It can be frozen for up to 12 months.
My favorite roll-out pie crust recipe involves shortening. Rather than fuss with measuring out solid-packed shortening from an enormous container, I spend the extra couple of bucks for the plain stick form of shortening for super simple measuring. No, I don’t use butter-flavored shortening.
Shortening has a higher melting point than lard or butter, so it’s easy to incorporate into pie dough and roll out. It’s also helpful when making any kind of decorative pie crust, because doughs made with shortening hold their shape the best during baking.Rhoda Boone, Shortening vs. Butter: Which Fat Makes The Best Pie Crust?, Epicurious, October 25, 2017.
As my mom has always said, “Butter makes it better.” Plenty of people agree that butter in pie pastry makes a delicious pie. In other words: flavor, flavor, flavor.
When it comes to pie dough, keeping the butter as cold as possible is the key to achieving that gold-medal worthy flakiness. Once you’ve rolled out and folded your pie dough, those distinct bits of butter will steam as the dough bakes, creating the pockets of air that puff up into distinct layers.
If the butter is too warm, it will combine too well into the flour, making the dough hard to work with and the final crust tough or cracker-like.
Don’t let the debate about the best type of pie crust hold you back. Try different kinds, if you want. Read about it if that interests you. Or choose the kind you prefer and own it.
How to Make Pie Crust
It’s easy to make scratch-made pie crust. No, really. The hardest part is the last little bit of pie making, where you have to crimp the edges to make them pretty. Even then, looks don’t matter nearly so much as you and I seem to believe. I know; I get frustrated when I CANNOT make my pie’s edges look nice. The struggle is real.
But. I’ve learned to let it go. Life is too short to cry about slightly unsightly pie.
What Should You Do to Make the Best Pie Crust?
Pie crust ingredients should start out like the cool guy in high school: totally chill. That’s a ridiculous analogy. For a flaky crust, not tough, pastry needs fresh-from-the-fridge ingredients. It’s also all about working fast — and avoiding overhandling. It’s too bad, really.
I run warm. Unlike many petite women, I am a furnace. In my hands, pie dough goes from cool to so warm in no time. I’m working on increasing my speed. I just know that my grandma Magel and her cold, cold hands would have made the best pie. She used to say, “Cold hands, warm heart.”
When making pie dough, it is essential that the water (or other liquid) and butter (or shortening) be chilled until very cold. For best results, chill dry ingredients, such as flour and sugar, as well.
Pie dough must be made very quickly, before the ingredients have time to become warm. It’s best to use a food processor on the job; the entire mixing process shouldn’t take longer than a minute.
Keep your ingredients cool, and you’ll have no problem. Unless, of course, you’re a mini furnace like me. Then you’ll have to focus on your speed, so you aren’t melting everything.
There is another option: a food processor.
If you have hot hands (or just a hot kitchen), a food processor works, too. Start by cutting the butter into slightly larger cubes (roughly 3/4-inch). Toss the butter in flour to coat before adding it to the food processor, then pulse in 3-second bursts; I find that 10 to 15 pulses usually do the trick.
Once that’s done, it’s best to add the water by hand; the food processor blade tends to over-mix pie dough.
Should You Let Pie Dough Rest?
So many recipes for pie crust and so many different techniques and suggestions to go with them. After you combine your dough ingredients, what should you do next? Let it rest.
Many crust recipes instruct you to wrap up your freshly mixed pie dough and put it into the fridge for anywhere from 20 minutes to hours. This is a great idea if you make your pie dough in advance and need somewhere to keep it for a few days, but if you’re making pie that same day, ditch the cold.
The fridge temperature solidifies the fat and makes the crust mixture more likely to crack and break if it gets too chilly. The important takeaway from all that resting-in-the-fridge hype is not the fridge part—it’s the rest time.
Your goal is to take this two-by-four-inch disc of butter and flour and convince the gluten to willingly stretch out to three times its original area. The gluten needs rest. Without it, it gets cranky and will keep pulling back despite your best moves. Once you’ve mixed your dough, wrap it and let it sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes. Then, roll away.
The dough will be less likely to crack or crumble, and the gluten should be sufficiently relaxed. Unless your kitchen is sweltering (over 80°F), resting on the counter is the way to go.
Who knew pie crust needed to rest? Now that you know, you can add it into your pie baking process, no problem. It might be the time you need to fiddle with the rest of the pie.
How Do You Make Pie Crust Flaky?
The flakiness of a pie crust depends on a few factors. The fats you choose, how much you handle the dough, and the temperature of the ingredients can all affect how flaky your pie crust will turn out.
The biggest determining factor in the quality of your pie crust is the technique used to make it. Vinegar, buttermilk, lemon juice, and vodka all change the interaction of the liquid and gluten in the dough. But the difference between a dough with acid in it and one without (when made with the same technique) is infinitesimal. In other words, no ingredient can cure poor execution.Susan Reid, Vinegar in Pie Dough, King Arthur Baking, August 15, 2018.
Interactions between alcohol in pie crust or vinegar in pie dough won’t help an overhandled pie recover. But people do include these ingredients for a reason. Let’s take a closer look.
Should You Add Alcohol to Pie Dough?
I hadn’t heard of adding alcohol to a pie pastry. Have any of you tried this? I don’t remember even seeing it in any recipes. I’d be curious to try this myself, and I can see how it would potentially be a worthwhile switch for new bakers who love to overwork dough.
Eighty proof vodka is 60 percent water and 40 percent alcohol. Unlike water, alcohol does not contribute to the formation of gluten, the network of proteins that can cause a crust to turn leathery. Because the alcohol burns off quickly in the oven, drying out the crust, we could add enough vodka to keep the dough wet and extremely supple.
But what if you don’t have a bottle of vodka in your pantry—can another 80 proof liquor be used in its place? We baked pie crusts made with rum, whiskey, and gin and compared them side by side with our vodka crust.
Surprisingly, the vast majority of our tasters could not distinguish among the different flavors of booze; all of the crusts had a clean taste and flaky texture. So if vodka is not your tipple of choice, go ahead and substitute any 80 proof spirit.
Should You Add Vinegar to Pie Dough?
I’ve seen those recipes too. I know I tried a few in my earlier pie baking days. Although associated with southern baking, swapping vinegar for a bit of water in pie dough seems easy to find — in the south or not.
Others attest that vinegar keeps the dough from oxidizing, which hampers proper browning. Side by side photos of dough made with vinegar and without show the latter with a slightly grayish tinge, though the difference is slight. (Obviously, this also depends on how long the dough rests before it is rolled and baked.)
Others still will say that vinegar imparts a nice flavor to the crust. This explanation is straightforward, and speaks more to personal preference than to food science.
And finally, there’s one final rationale for adding vinegar that holds up best: “It’s how I first learned to make pie dough.” (Sticking to the first recipe that worked well for you is as valid an explanation as any, it seems.)
As with so much of baking, if putting vinegar in your pie dough works for you, then keep on keepin’ on. You don’t have to mix things up to match the latest TikTok trend of the day. Try a new recipe for pie crust if you want, not because you feel like you have to.
How Do You Make a Pretty Pie Crust?
I’m still working on forming my crust in a way that isn’t embarrassing. Jokes aside (at least for the moment), using small or mini cookie cutters to make pastry cut-outs or a ruffle-edged pastry roller (shown below) to edge a lattice pie crust up the fancy factor.
Last but not least, there are lots of ways to make your pie extra-pretty. I love brushing the top with a simple glaze of egg yolk thinned with a little water. This makes a burnished, glowing crust. A friend of mine brushes her crusts several times during baking to make them even more golden and shiny.
You can also brush the crust with cream or sprinkle it with a handful of large-grain sugar. Sparkly! If you’re ready to level-up your pie, try weaving the top crust into a lattice. It’s not that hard, but looks oh-so-pretty.
Some recipes do call for a brush of thinned egg yolk and water. While it adds a nice golden crust, it is also unnecessary. If you want to take the time for that step, then do. If not, your pie will still look golden, just not *quite* as golden.
Although, if your pie recipe includes lemon juice or vinegar, you may experience a few browning issues. In that case, here are ideas on what you can do to help avoid a pale pie crust.
How to Bake Pie Crust
Some pie crusts need to be prebaked. Other pie varieties won’t be baked until they are filled. Still, different crusts, those of the graham cracker or cookie crumb variety, don’t necessarily need to be baked.
In case you’re wondering, I prefer to bake my cookie or graham cracker crusts.
Your recipe will tell you everything you need to know. If it doesn’t, and you don’t feel comfortable guessing, choose a different recipe or look at the ingredients. Test it. Write in your cookbooks. Repeat.
What is Blind Baking?
It’s a fancy term for baking a pie crust before you fill it. You’ll bake a pie crust ahead of time for chilled pies that require a pastry crust with a cold custard or pudding filling — like a chocolate cream, banana cream, or coconut cream pie.
What are Pie Weights?
Some bakers consider pie weights an indispensable tool to bake up a fab pie crust. These handy little things fill the crust, weighing it down, so it won’t bubble up making filling it something close to impossible.
Pie weights can be ceramic, a perforated steel disk, or a chain of roughly 3/8″ round steel balls. Those are the kind you can purchase in a store or online. That’s not the only option, as you’ll see below.
What Can I Use From My Pantry as a Pie Weight?
If buying pie weights and trying to find room to store one more baking thing feels impossible, look to your pantry for simple stand-ins. From dried beans to another pie plate, you have a few options.
Beans or rice: The Delish editors swear by using dried beans or uncooked rice. Dump these on top of the parchment paper, and they work just like the ceramic balls. Don’t cook with them after this though. Once you use them as pie weights, store them in a Ziploc labeled “pie weights”; they have a new kitchen role now 🙂
Sugar: Yes, sugar! Just make sure to use enough to weigh it down, and spread it out evenly. After you’re done blind baking, you’ll have caramelized sugar that will add a toastiness to any recipe.
Steel ball bearing: Head to the hardware store or workbench for this one. They’re heavy and work just like the stainless steel chain, minus the chain. Bonus: They retain heat well, which will help cook the crust. If they’ve been used before, give them a good wash before placing on the parchment.
Another pie plate: In a pinch, you can actually place another pie plate on top of your crust. It’s best to cook this one inverted to allow gravity to work a little magic.
Spread a layer of biodegradable parchment paper on top of your pie crust. Then, top the parchment with your weights. You’ll only need one set of pie weights for a pie. Tip: if you are using steel ball bearings, you’ll need to wash those off before you put them away for use the next time.
Can You Make a Pie without an Oven?
Is it 150* outside, so no way are you flipping it on for pie baking? Did your oven die on you? That’s the worst. Fortunately, you can make a pie without a range if you make the right kind of pie recipes. You won’t be able to make an apple pie with a pastry crust, but you can easily make a refrigerated pie.
For a refrigerated pie, you’ll skip the butter or shortening and flour pie crust, the kind you roll out and bake. You’ll use a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust in your pie dish. This is the type of pie that’s perfect for pudding-filled pies or those made with mousse.
Why Did My Pie Fail?
As you have likely figured out, a pie can fail for many reasons. Let’s take a closer look at how a pie can go wrong. This way, you will know what to do to help keep from making the same mistake again.
Why is My Filling Runny?
You slice into your beautiful pie, and the filling oozes all over. Rather than a perfectly-shaped, picture-perfect triangle, you have a mess of a thing. While it might taste good, it sure isn’t what you envisioned.
If your pie filling is running and not set, you might have sliced into your pie too soon. Your recipe likely shared how long your pie dish needed to sit and cool before serving. You can’t rush that process.
Why Does My Pie Have a Soggy Bottom?
To keep your bottom pie crusts from becoming soggy or damp, listen to Susan G. Purdy’s advice from her delightful book The Perfect Pie: More than 125 All-Time Favorite Pies and Tarts (2000).
Be sure the oven is preheated and the temperature is hot enough (check by placing an oven thermometer inside your oven”. Begin baking pies in the lower third of the oven so the greater heat in this area will quickly set the lower crust. Do not underbake piecrusts.
Do not add moist filling to a pie shell until just before baking. Do not set a filled pie plate on a cold baking sheet in the oven: if you are using a baking sheet underneath the pie plate, preheat it in the oven before use unless otherwise directed in the recipe.
With moist pie fillings, it is best to partially prebake the pie shell before adding the filling, or you can glaze the lower crust with moisture-proof coating such as beaten egg glaze or brushed-on fruit preserves. For extra-moist fruit fillings, sprinkle cracker or cereal crumbs over the crust before filling: crumbs absorb excess moisture. Cool all pies on a wire rack to prevent moisture condensation on the lower crust as the pie cools.
It is not essential to butter pie pans, but buttering the pan helps the lower crust to brown quickly.
Use pie plates of heat-proof glass, such as Pyrex, or sturdy anodized aluminum with a dull finish. Shiny metal deflects heat and extra-thick pans take longer to absorb heat, causing slow baking.
If you don’t know Susan, you have to check out some of her cookbooks. She has an incredible level of detail. They are works of art.
Why is My Pie Crust So Pale?
A pale pie crust does not make the cover of a cookbook. When your pie crust isn’t hitting that golden mark, and it’s not too low an oven temperature, the reason may lie in your recipe.
Increase the oven temperature. You can also brush the top crust with beaten egg or milk for a golden, glossy appearance.
If your crust recipe contains vinegar or lemon juice, this could be the culprit as well: these ingredients are used to make the crust tender, but they can also inhibit browning. Counteract it by adding about a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to your flour before mixing in the fat.
Otherwise, pop that bad boy back in the oven and let it bake a little longer. Set a timer for shorter periods, so you don’t forget about it. Keep an eye on the outer crust and cover it with foil if necessary.
Why Does My Pie Crust Look So Dark but the Pie isn’t Done Baking?
When the top crust of your pretty pie is browning too fast, keep it from getting too dark or burning by tenting foil over the top. You’ll grab a piece of foil and sort of fold it in half over the pie, so it looks similar in shape to a tent.
That way, the steam won’t mess with the top of your pie and affect the baking while keeping the crust from getting too brown for your liking.
Why is My Pie Crust Hard and Dry?
Gluten is the enemy of a flaky pie dough. Handling your pie crust too much develops gluten. The result of overhandling a pie crust is a dry and hard pie crust. Or, you may have added too much water to your dough.
It’s a disappointing lesson to learn. Next time, resist the temptation to keep fiddling with your dough. Roll it out and place it in your pie pan. Don’t keep fussing.
Why is My Pumpkin Pie Pulling Away from the Crust?
I’ve been there too. You pull your glorious pumpkin pie out of the oven, and the filling has separated from the crust. While it’s nothing a little homemade whipped cream can’t fix, this common pie problem has a simple fix:
If your pumpkin filling cracks or separates, it’s probably overcooked. And that’s not your fault: It can be hard to nail the perfect level of doneness for pumpkin pie, since most recipes have you pour the custard into an unbaked pie shell, and by the time the crust is perfectly golden brown, the filling is overcooked. The solution?
Blind-bake your pie crust with pie weights until light gold, then pour in the filling and bake until inch or so diameter in the center is still jiggly like jello—not soupy. Edges getting too brown? Just cover them with foil or a pie shield.
Why is My Apple Pie Gapping?
Does your apple pie seem deflated and sad? First off: don’t use McIntosh apples in a homemade pie. They are so juicy that you may not like the soggy results. But, if your pie is experiencing a gap between the shell and the filling, here’s advice you can use now and later:
“Apple pie gap” happens because the apples reduce in volume while the pie is baking and the crust doesn’t. Two things can help, though they don’t solve the problem entirely: Dice the apples into 1/2-inch pieces instead of wedges, and don’t overfill the pie. Another option: A lattice top can be gently pressed down to meet the top of the filling while still warm from the oven.Nick Malgieri, 5 Common Pie Problems and How to Fix Them, Cleveland.com, December 5, 2013.
How Can I Patch My Broken Pie Crust?
I have yet to have this problem *knock on wood* so I turned to Maida Heatter for help. She may have been the “Queen of Cakes,” but I trust her general dessert judgment. She knew her stuff.
Of course, Maida had an answer for how you can fix a broken pie crust, and it came from her husband, Ralph. He suggested almond paste. She had used almond paste or Marzipan. Here’s what Maida had to say:
Cut off a thin slice or break off a small chunk of the marzipan or almond paste and press it between your fingers to make a thin patch slightly larger than the damaged area. Beat a bit of egg white lightly (only until foamy), then use it as a paste. with your fingertip, brush the white onto one side of the patch and place it, egg white down, over the damage. (I have also used just a bit of water as a paste and it worked, but if you have egg white, I think it might be safer than water.)
Flour your fingertips and press gently around the rim of the patch. Then pour in the filling and no one will ever know, and you will say thank you to Ralph every time you patch pastry this way.
How Long Does a Pie Last?
If you’re wondering how long you can store a homemade pie, the answer depends on the pie you’ve made. Recipes vary. Refer to the section below for a rough idea on how long your pie will stay fresh. A warm kitchen versus a cooler kitchen will also affect the staying power of your pie.
Of course, in my house, between two teens and I, the answer to “how long until a pie is bad?” would be, “No idea, since they don’t last much beyond two days.”
Fresh fruit pies: Best served the same day, fresh fruit pies made without dairy products (other than butter) in the filling will keep at average room temperature for 2 days. If you think you’ll need to keep a pie longer, immediately refrigerate it. You’ll buy an extra day.
Dried fruit pies: If they contain no dairy products, they’ll typically last 2 to 3 days at average room temperature and 5 or 6 days in the refrigerator.
Custard pies: Immediately refrigerate them after cooling. Finish the last slice by day 3.
Cream pies: The filling will be fine for up to 3 days, provided you immediately refrigerate them once they are cooled. The whipped cream toppings are far less stable. A topped pie should be eaten within 24 hours. One way to extend this time is to top only the served slices with freshly whipped cream.
Nut pies: That pecan pie you love so much will keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
Pumpkin pies: Refrigerated, they will keep for 2 or 3 days.
Use your best judgment. Consider your recipe, the heat of your kitchen, and the freshness of the ingredients. Always err on the side of caution.
Make Pie for Every Occasion
Pies are an all-year-long kind of dessert. From cream pies to fruit pies, custard, or pudding pies, there’s a pie to match every season and occasion. There are even fake pies like Boston Cream Pie!
What’s your favorite kind of pie? Where did you get the recipe? Please, do share. We would all love to hear about it.